More than 370 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar landed in Indonesia late Tuesday and early Wednesday after floating for months on overcrowded boats, Indonesian officials said.
"They were suffering dehydration, they are weak and starving," Khairul Nove, head of the Langsa Search and Rescue Agency in Indonesia's eastern Aceh province, told the Associated Press.
Experts say that as many as 8,000 migrants may be adrift in the Andaman Sea and Straits of Malacca, living in conditions so squalid that the United Nations has warned of an epidemic of “floating coffins.” Some governments in the region have turned away migrants.
Many of the migrants are fleeing desperate poverty in Bangladesh, while others are ethnic Rohingyas, a persecuted Muslim minority from Myanmar’s western Rakhine state who have been violently attacked, denied citizenship and confined to squalid ghettos at home.
More than 3,000 migrants have reached land in recent weeks, about half of them in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Many have spoken of abysmal conditions on the boats. Some say smugglers beat and tortured them then fled off the coast of Thailand, leaving them adrift for days without food or water. Many have died.
The Indonesian government has pledged to turn boats away, fearing a flood of poor, uneducated migrants. On Tuesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the country had "given more than it should” to help the migrants.
"This irregular migration is not the problem of one or two nations. This is a regional problem which also happens in other places. This is also a global problem," he told reporters, the Associated Press reported.
The Thai government is planning a conference May 29, calling together leaders of Southeast Asian nations to discuss the issue. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has refused to cooperate, and Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have yet to lend large-scale assistance, tempering hope for a speedy breakthrough.
The refugees have found assistance from Indonesian villagers, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
“Local communities have mobilized donations of food, water as well as moral support, all desperately needed after the terrible ordeal the boat people have been through,” it said in a statement.